Matchday 24 of the Swedish Allsvenskan season saw the table-toppers Malmo travel to last season’s champions Djurgarden. The league leaders had the opportunity to stretch their lead over second-placed Norrköping to 11 points with just six games remaining.
The last time the sides met back in July, Malmö ran out 1-0 winners in a competitive match. A similar outcome was expected this time with Djurgården having been winless in their previous six Allsvenskan outings. Malmö having lost just once in their previous 16 matches.
However, despite leading 2-0 with 80 minutes played, Malmö threw the points away as Djurgården rallied with three late goals.
This tactical analysis will provide analysis of the tactics of Djurgården and Malmö. The focus of the analysis will be how Djurgården set up in a mid-block before changing their approach and snatching a late victory.
Djurgården deployed the same 4-2-3-1 formation they have started with in recent matches and against Malmö in the reverse of this fixture. Centre-back Jesper Nyholm (#2), right-forward Jonathan Ring (#11) and Nicklas Bärkroth (#19) who all missed the 1-1 draw with Hammarby came back into the side.
Malmö head coach, a Champions League and Serie A winner as a player, Jon Dahl Tomasson also set his team up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Tomasson made three personnel changes to the side that defeated Kalmar 4-0 prior to the international break. Franz Brorsson (#31) came in at centre-back, Erdal Rakip (#19) at defensive midfield, and Søren Rieks (#5) played on the left of a front three.
Djurgården’s mid-block and counter
Similar to the first meeting between the sides this season, Djurgården sat in a mid-block for large periods of the game and looked to hit Malmö on the counter-attack. This section will analyse how Djurgården set their block and played forward quickly when they regained possession.
As the above image shows, Djurgården allowed Malmö to have unopposed possession in their half of the pitch. Djurgarden stayed in a compact 4-2-3-1 formation which prevented Malmö from playing forward passes into any of their centrally positioned players.
Djurgården’s set up encouraged Malmö to play balls over the top of Djurgården’s backline. In this example, Malmö’s left-back (circled) aimed a long ball over the head of the Djurgården right-back. Malmö’s near sided forwards (circled) made crisscrossing runs trying to get in behind Djurgården’s back-line.
Djuragrden’s defenders dealt with these long balls comfortably by simply dropping back towards their own goal as soon as they anticipated the long ball. This example shows the Djurgården right-back moments after intercepting the Malmö left-backs long ball.
As the left-back played the long ball, Malmö tried to position themselves to win the second ball by making supporting runs. As the above image shows, four Malmö players are almost on top of the Djurgården right-back. Three other Malmö players, one defensive midfielder, the attacking midfielder and right forward, have also pushed up to the final third.
Djurgården appear to have expected this and it is from these positions that they launched counter-attacks.
Instead of trying to bring the ball down and play their way out, Djurgården’s first thought was to launch a counter-attack. This was done by playing a long ball behind Malmö’s backline for their forward to run onto. The advanced positioning of the ball-near centre-back and the right-back creates a one on one between the forward and ball-far centre-back.
It was the immediacy of Djurgården’s in launching the attack, at the very first opportunity, that made these situations appear dangerous. However, Malmö may have been willing to push players forward in this somewhat risky fashion due to the ability of centre back Anel Ahmedhodžić (#5). Ahmedhodžić on this, and many other occasions in the match, dealt with the situation well.
The image above shows a similar scenario to the previous one and highlights again how exposed Malmö could be positionally to counter attacks. Malmö have again attacked down Djurgården’s right side. Djurgården have regained possession and played a long, high ball forward from the right-back position.
In this example, instead of running beyond the backline, the forward makes a double movement. First, the forward moves away from the ball to force the centre-back to drop off. He then moves towards the ball into the space he has created for himself. When the forward receives the ball he lays it back to a supporting midfielder. The midfielder plays a through ball to one of the wide forwards making runs in behind.
The supporting movements of the Djurgården attackers created a dangerous four on four situation. Again, the ability of Malmö’s backline to defend well when exposed meant they did not concede from these counter-attacks.
Malmö break Djurgården down
Malmö had much more attacking success when they either caught Djurgården out of position (i.e. not set in their mid-block) or managed to play through, rather than over, the block. This section will analyse how Malmö created space to play in central areas by using their wide men first.
This image shows the moments after Malmös centre-back has played a pass into his right-back who has taken up a high and wide position. As the ball is played out wide, the Malmö right-forward runs towards and engages the Djurgården attacking midfielder (circled). When his right-back is about to receive the ball, the right-forward makes a movement towards the right-back to show for a pass.
The pass to the right-back and the movement of the right-forward attracts both the Djurgården left-forward and attacking midfielder into the wide area. This now leaves the Malmö defensive midfielder in enough space to receive a first-time pass from his right-back under no immediate pressure.
The defensive midfielder is now able to pick out a forward pass into his attacking midfield player. This pass breaks Djurgården’s midfield line. From this position, the attacking midfielder can pick out runs being made in behind by his left and centre-forwards.
This pattern of playing into wide areas to stretch Djurgården enough to play a pass through the midfield was repeated successfully throughout the match by Malmö.
Djurgården’s switch to high-press
All three Djurgården goals came in the last 10 minutes of the match. This coincided with a change in approach from Djurgården who began to press far higher up the pitch and with much more intensity. Whilst their first two goals came from corners, the lead up to both corners being awarded came from winning the ball back after pressing Malmö in their defensive third.
As the above image shows, the point at which Djurgården engaged the ball moved far higher up the pitch. Instead of waiting for Malmö’s centre-backs to progress with the ball to the half-way line, they were pressed at the edge their own box.
Djurgården’s attacking midfielder pressed alongside his forward which prevented Malmö from being able to play around an isolated forward and keep the ball amongst their back four. The two defensive midfielders moved up 20 yards putting them in line with their wide-forwards. The midfield line was compact and central. This allowed the forwards to angle their pressing movements to show Djurgården into central areas.
Djurgården’s back four stepped up enough to ensure there was not a gap between the lines for Malmö’s forwards to receive the ball whilst remaining deep enough to defend the space behind them. This setup and the intensity of the pressing action forced Malmö to play a hopeful long ball.
The above image shows how well Djurgården were positioned to deal with the long ball even when they had pressed higher up the pitch. Here the ball is played right in front of the centre-back who steps forward and headers the ball in the air.
The centre-back is allowed to head the ball under little pressure and is able find his right-forward. The right-forward springs an attack which culminates in the winning of a corner kick and Djurgården’s second goal. This was the story of the final 10 minutes of the match in which Malmö could barely escape their own half.
Both teams contributed well to a competitive game that was heated at times. Djurgården sensed blood with ten minutes remaining and must be praised for how they switched to a high press which appears to have caught Malmö off guard.
Jon Dahl Tomasson will be disappointed with his Malmö sides game management going into the final 10 minutes of the match. All three Djurgården goals came on the back of long balls from Malmö’s backline. Malmö should have looked after the ball much better and had they done so would have seen the match out.
Malmö are still clearly in the driving seat to win their 21st Swedish Championship. Nine points clear with six games remaining is a great position to be in, but a victory here would have made it all the more comfortable.